Why’s the Rum Gone?

Posted by on May 7, 2014

The great thing about knowing words like ‘esterify’ and ‘polyphenols’ is that as soon as you start throwing them around people seem to think you know what your talking about. The joke’s on them, though: I know nothing!

In all seriousness, when I was nominated to run a once-in-a-blue-moon rum tasting I did feel like my fancy vocabulary had turned around and bitten me right in the rear. I like to think I can speak fairly intelligently about most spirits, particularly whisky, but my knowledge of rum was (and probably still is) somewhat lacking and so I drove myself to buckle down and conduct some extensive research before standing up in front of an audience to talk about it.

Just as with about any spirit out there, rum is more a product of geography than anything else. People love alcohol, and they will use whatever is available to them to get it: barley in Scotland, corn in America, grapes in France, potatoes in Russia, agave in Mexico, and sugar cane in the Caribbean. But rum’s popularity, and even notoriety, can be attributed to circumstance to a far greater extent than almost any other spirit. Sure, all spirits have their own unique place in history (gin’s contribution to London squalor in the mid-18th century, the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791, Van Gogh’s alleged ‘absinthism’) but New World rum built empires, instigated revolutions, sustained economies, and provided a welcome buzz to British sailors all the way up to 1970. It’s influence on modern society is truly fascinating, and so it would command my attention even if it weren’t so damn tasty. Understandably, though, the latter reason is the big draw to any tasting and the assortment we got through certainly didn’t disappoint:

1) El Dorado 3 YO White Rum (Guyana):  As they are rarely aged for any significant length of time, white rums often go through a charcoal filtration process and El Dorado is no exception. White rums are generally reserved for mixing with Coke or Mojitos and it’s fairly rare to see someone drinking one neat. While it was admitted that there was a slight harshness and burn in this rum, it did yield up lovely coconut, white chocolate and banana aromas and flavours and everyone was willing and able to finish their pour before the next one came around.

2) Foursquare Spiced Rum (Barbados): Foursquare’s rums are a testament to the provenance of the drink, as the distillery sits on the remnants of an ancient sugar factory. As with gin, the ingredients used to flavour spiced rum are almost always a proprietary blend, but I can confidently say that cinnamon is on the list. Subtle tones of vanilla and nutmeg came through as well, giving it a definite Christmassy quality, and it was widely agreed that putting a shot of this in a hot chocolate would be the dictionary definition of delicious.

3) Gosling’s ‘Black Seal’ Rum (Bermuda): Known far and wide as the go-to rum for a ‘Dark and Stormy’, what’s not quite as well known is that this is actually the only rum that can lawfully be used in the drink. Gosling’s is one of the few companies that has trademarked a cocktail name, and when you add this on to the fact that the company permeates every section of Bermudan society (Black Rum isn’t their national drink, ‘Gosling’s Black Rum’ is their national drink) it really brings the historic and modern commercial influence of rum into perspective. This is a heavy-hitting rum, with loads of molasses, chocolate, burnt sugar, vanilla, and oak all coming at you in waves.

4) Doorly’s XO (Barbados): Another product of the Foursquare Distillery, this rum was finished in Oloroso Sherry butts. While the term ‘XO’ technically stands for ‘Extra Old,’ there’s no regulation declaring exactly how old it must be. Nonetheless, it proved to be a very smooth, oily rum with a hint of the raisiny sherry sweetness that dropped away very quickly on the finish.

5) El Dorado 12 YO (Guyana): As their name would suggest, Demarara Distillers make their rum from sugar grown on the banks of the Demarara River (the only true Demarara sugar out there). Their various brands are also unique in that many of them incorporate rum produced from their wooden pot and column stills. Just to hammer that point home, these guys are boiling liquid in wood. While I’m told the noise and sight of the shuddering stills is something to behold, the results are hard to argue with. Their twelve-year old was certainly one to savour, with balanced levels of oak, vanilla, caramel, demarara sugar (go figure) and a fantastic dry spice finish.

6) Mezan 1998 Barrique-Aged Grenada Rum: While the composite rums of this bottle were not distilled in Grenada, the twelve years that they spent in 225 L ex-Bourdeaux barrels was on the island’s 300 year-old sugar estate known as Westerhall. It presented itself much like a Lowland whisky might, with a light floral element giving way to a slight grainy, salty, dry finish.

In common fashion, opinions were flowing freely by the end of the tasting. While not unanimous, the landslide favourite ended up being El Dorado 12. Golden indeed.